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Tinker KC-135s first AFRC wing to receive Block 45 upgrade

Lt. Col. Eric Wilks (left) and Lt. Col. Marvin Ashbaker, pilots with the 465th Air Refueling Squadron at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, conduct pre-flight checks aboard the Air Force Reserve Command's first KC-135 Stratotanker to receive the Block 45 upgrade. The upgrade provides a digital display of engine controls, an updated autopilot, a new altimeter and software improvements, all of which will help ensure the KC-135 can perform well into the future as the workhorse of the air refueling fleet. (Tech. Sgt. Lauren Gleason)

Lt. Col. Eric Wilks (left) and Lt. Col. Marvin Ashbaker, pilots with the 465th Air Refueling Squadron at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, conduct pre-flight checks aboard the Air Force Reserve Command's first KC-135 Stratotanker to receive the Block 45 upgrade. The upgrade provides a digital display of engine controls, an updated autopilot, a new altimeter and software improvements, all of which will help ensure the KC-135 can perform well into the future as the workhorse of the air refueling fleet. (Tech. Sgt. Lauren Gleason)

Citizen Airman/Aug. 2016 -- The 507th Air Refueling Wing at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, is the first Air Force Reserve Command unit to have one of its KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft receive the new Block 45 upgrade.

The upgrade includes an improvement to the flight deck that provides flight crews with an updated autopilot and digital panels that eliminate analog instrument gauges by consolidating the outdated controls onto one large liquid crystal display screen.

The 465th Air Refueling Squadron took the newly upgraded jet on its first flight in April.

Four of the eight jets in the wing’s fleet are scheduled to receive the upgrade by Sept. 30, according to Capt. Anthony Konakowitz, Block 45 program manager at the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, Tinker AFB.

“The average upgrade takes 50 to 55 days to complete, but some aircraft have been upgraded in as few as 43 days,” Konakowitz said.

Staff Sgt. Daniel Swinehart, a guidance and control technician with the 507th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, said eliminating the older technology saves maintenance hours by cutting down on troubleshooting time and provides a highly reliable system by reducing the amount of avionics components that can potentially fail.

“Rather than us trying to troubleshoot and figure out what’s wrong with the system, the system is now better able to tell us exactly what’s wrong with it and what we need to replace,” Swinehart said. “Instead of analog gauges trying to talk with digital signals, it’s all digital now, so we don’t have to convert from one to the other.”

Maj. Michael Waters, a pilot with the 465th ARS, said the new autopilot is comparable to what is used on commercial aircraft and should alleviate stress during flight and increase performance.

“Our flight deck workload should decrease with a more conventional automation,” Waters said, “It will just take some time to adjust to the new layout and procedural changes.”